Friday, April 12, 2024

From the Editor: House Poor

I have lived in the same neighborhood so long now that I get lulled into thinking that everything is just fine. Nothing has changed. I still walk down to our scrubby little beach entrance every morning right after the sun has come up to check out the ocean. The palm tree Jerry and Gladys planted behind the bench is full-grown now; the seawall we used to sit on has been covered by sand now for years. The dune grasses we planted so long ago are thriving. These are the little changes that have slowly overtaken our shifting beach, but nothing much else is different. People have moved away or died, and the houses have been spruced up a little, but it’s the same modest boho U-shaped street east of A1A someone named the “Fruit Loop” decades ago—presumably because of all the crazy hippies who lived there.

Except that is an illusion. Houses in the Fruit Loop are worth a small fortune now. Rents at the place at the end of the street that used to be a vacation motel back in the day have skyrocketed. These are tiny houses, old houses, houses with carports if you’re lucky, some with room air conditioners and clamshell storm shutters and old awning windows. They have escalated in value to many times their intrinsic worth, the latest victims of an affordability crisis that has swallowed South Florida whole—and is not going anywhere. We take a look at this our March issue, and at the people who have little, if any, hopes of staying here much longer.

People on the Fruit Loop, like homeowners in many of the more modest neighborhoods across South Florida, are sitting on a Scrooge McDuck Money Bin of a house but have nowhere to go if they sell. And it’s the same with higher-income families. Between rising home values and interest rates and crazy home insurance rates, we are trapped by our own dizzying “prosperity”—in a region that is slowly expelling the very people who make it work, day in and day out. It’s alarming. It’s confusing. And it’s time to start figuring it out.

Becoming our own privileged Vacationland is not an option; we need a thriving economy and people to participate in it. We need solutions, and we need to start thinking of them now. Some ideas include expanding community land trusts, which can help create affordable housing; finding new and less expensive ways of building houses (3D printing, shipping containers, modular construction, etc.); increasing access to home financing; transforming underused space like hotels or office buildings or unused lots into housing. I’m sure there are many more, and people smarter than I are already on it. But it’s become real to me now, and I hear it from everyone I know.

It’s an election year, and we’re engulfed by the noise of politics from every direction. I suggest we start turning down the noise and turning up the action to solve some of Florida’s very real problems—and the affordability crisis is right at the top.

This article is from the March 2024 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Marie Speed
Marie Speed
Marie Speed is group editor of all JES publications, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Worth Avenue, Mizner’s Dream and the annual publication for the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. She also oversees editorial operations of the company’s Salt Lake City magazines. Her community involvement has ranged from work with the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce to a longtime board member position at Caridad Center. She is also on the George Snow Scholarship Fund review committee. She is a past officer of the Florida Magazine Association and a member of Class XVII of Leadership Florida. In her spare time, Marie enjoys South Florida’s natural world through hiking and kayaking, and she is an avid reader and an enthusiastic cook.

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